Court Decision Illustrates Complexity of Employee Data Privacy

As someone who wears a Fitbit, religiously checks-in to locations with Swarm/Foursquare, and posts every book I’ve read online with Goodreads, it might seem strange that I also regularly write about the growing concern over employee data privacy.

shutterstock_309479960 copy

The caveat is that for the applications and devices I listed above I can decide to stop letting those companies gather data on me simply by “opting out” of using them. But it isn’t as black and white as “opting in” or “opting out” in the workplace, where your options are limited regarding how much data you share with your employer.

In Brandon Hall Group’s 2016 HCM Measurement and Analytics Study, the top three concerns regarding data were:

  • Data Security 40%
  • Employee privacy 16%
  • Dehumanization of the workforce 13%

The recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (one level below the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals) in the case of EEOC v. Flambeau, Inc., has elements that touch on all of these concerns.

In a nutshell, the case focused on whether participation in wellness programs at companies could be used to determine participation in that company’s healthcare program. Or put more simply, can companies force you to take biometric screening in order for you to get health insurance? And according to this latest ruling (Dec. 31, 2015), the answer is yes. This is obviously very good news for companies that provide wellness products, such as the aforementioned Fitbit, although I am sure that many of them would prefer that organizational wellness programs be more carrot and less stick.

Still, this ruling speaks to the greater amount of data on employees that is available. Already the amount of data that can be collected on employees is so staggering that many practitioners are struggling to determine how to store it and classify it, much less use it in meaningful analyses. Add to that mountain of data very personal information about an employee’s personal health and habits and you can see the security and privacy concerns welling up in real-world scenarios.

In the short-term, the EEOC is likely to appeal this decision to the 7th Circuit, and laws regarding non-discrimination (anything covered under HIPAA) still take precedence over this ruling. But these issues won’t go away and the case should be a very strong motivator to make sure your organization’s employee data follows proper data governance guidelines, and that you have the necessary infrastructure (both systems and personnel) to handle new streams of employee data in safe, secure ways. Because while it’s each person’s choice what data to share in their personal lives, personal choice is becoming more complicated at work.

Cliff Stevenson, Principal Analyst, Workforce Management, Brandon Hall Group




Like what you see? Share with a friend.

Mike Cooke



Stay connected

Get notified for upcoming news subscribing

Related Content

Mike Cooke

Chief Executive Officer of Brandon Hall Group Mike Cooke Prior to joining Brandon Hall Group, Mike Cooke was the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of AC Growth. Mike held leadership and executive positions for the majority of his career, at which he was responsible for steering sales and marketing teams to drive results and profitability. His background includes more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing, management, and operations in the research, consulting, software and technology industries. Mike has extensive experience in sales, marketing and management having worked for several early high-growth emerging businesses and has implemented technology systems to support various critical sales, finance, marketing and client service functions. He is especially skilled in organizing the sales and service strategy to fully support a company’s growth strategy. The concept of growth was an absolute to Mike and a motivator in starting AC Growth, in order to help organizations achieve research driven results. Most recently, Mike was the VP and General Manager of Field Operations at Bersin & Associates, a global analyst and consulting services firm focused on all areas of enterprise learning, talent management and talent acquisition. Tasked with leading the company’s global expansion, Mike led all sales operations worldwide. During Mike’s tenure, the company has grown into a multi-national firm, conducting business in over 45 countries with over 4,500 multi-national organizations. Mike started his career at MicroVideo Learning Systems in 1992, eventually holding a senior management position and leading all corporate sales before founding Dynamic Minds. Mike was CEO and Co-Founder of Dynamic Minds, a custom developer of software programs, working with clients like Goldman Sachs, Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill and Merrill Lynch. Also, Mike worked for Oddcast, a leading provider of customer experience and marketing solutions, where he held a senior management position leading the company into new markets across various industries. Mike also serves on the Advisory Board for Carbon Solutions America, an independent sustainability consulting and carbon management firm that specializes in the design and implementation of greenhouse reduction and sustainability plans as well as managing the generation of carbon and renewal energy and energy efficiency credits. Mike attended University of Phoenix, studying Business Administration and Finance. He has also completed executive training at the Chicago Graduate School of Business in Chicago, IL.

Resubscribe to our email distribution list.